Chanukah in Our Small World

(Chabad Center Sheepshead Bay – Photo by Ray Johnson)

Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights is being celebrated for eight days and began with the lighting of the first menorah candle this past Sunday, December 21. It was not our intention to neglect or exclude local public lighting ceremonies from our announcements, but we had not been aware of any before the fact.

Internet searches for community Chanukah lighting events yielded information about only one such event which was put together by the Brooklyn Heights Chabad Lubavitch center and took place in North Brooklyn’s Franklin Park.

Happening upon the Chabad Lubavitch’s site reminded me how last month’s terrorist acts in Mumbai, India placed the Jewish organization in direct fire and made our world a little smaller.

Find out more about Chanukah and our small world after the jump.

I have some friends and acquaintances who live in Mumbai and the tragedies affected them, thankfully, only indirectly. I had the pleasure of experiencing the city as a tourist years ago when it was still known as Bombay. Even though it’s worlds away from us, my mind couldn’t help but make parallels between that large Indian city and our comparatively small neighborhood, Sheepshead Bay.

Other than the fact that we have, according to a 2003 New York Times article, a small Asian Indian population, the aspects that struck me as similar between our worlds mainly involved bodies of water and the highways circling them. Mumbai has quite a few beaches – Marina, Chowputty, and others that reminded me of Manhattan, Brighton, and Coney Island. Their beaches were quite a bit more bustling (year round) with the food vendors selling yummy paani puri fried snacks from their stands on the beach sand as opposed to stores on a boardwalk.

As I enjoyed a balmy-night tour down Mumbai’s Marine Drive (known as the Queen’s Necklace, since it sparkles like a diamond necklace), I thought, “Wow, this is just like the Belt Parkway.” Both highways, are the treasured fashion accessories of their cities , curve around a beautiful body of water, and are illuminated with lights that twinkle in the night sky. Just see how much this Mumbai highway looks like the Belt.

(Above: Marine Drive; Below: Mumbai at night. Courtesy of Nita J. Kulkarni

It’s more than just similarities in highways and beaches that we share. Both Mumbai and Sheepshead Bay have wealthy bedroom communities. My friends took me for a tour of an upscale residential area in Mumbai — just like I take my visitors to Manhattan Beach to show them the big houses — with the intention of seeing India’s (and quite possibly the world’s) most famous actor, Amitabh Bachchan, stepping from his front door.

The Chabad Lubavitch organization’s founders were based in Russia and there is a location here in Sheepshead Bay. Chabad Sheepshead Bay has its own website, but prefers a lower profile for its synagogue in the basement at 1315 Avenue Y.

The rabbi moved the minivan that was parked out front, allowing a better view of the menorah at the front gate of the building.

I had assumed that his minivan was the Texas-plated Chanukah-van parked at the curb, but as he said just before driving off, “that belongs to my neighbor.”

Mumbai may be miles away from Sheepshead Bay, but violent acts against our neighbors’ brothers makes us all family. As we celebrate the holidays with our loved ones, we can only remember that we all share more in common with each other than not — whatever your neighborhood or country and whatever your faith or belief system.

Maybe next year, there will be a community menorah lighting here in Sheepshead Bay. We’ll be sure to announce it like we did for the tree lightings. In the meantime, you can still see lit menorahs at local synagogues until December 29.


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